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How Ted Cruz’s ill-fated trip to Cancun blew up from Twitter rumor to major scandal

Cruz forged ahead with plans to travel with his family to Mexico as his constituents struggle to survive.

Senator Ted Cruz.
The optics of Cruz’s trip to Mexico couldn’t have been worse.
Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An emerging political scandal over Ted Cruz’s alleged vacation plans is sweeping the internet amid fallout from Winter Storm Uri, which has left millions of Texans without electricity or running water for days now.

On Wednesday evening, political Twitter became obsessed with unconfirmed reports that the Texas senator flew to Cancun, Mexico, for a family vacation — reports that were confirmed on Thursday morning by Fox News and other outlets.

The optics of a Texas senator flying to a sunny resort as his constituents face unplowed roads, power outages, burst pipes, and food shortages isn’t great, to say the least.

A Twitter user named Juan Gomez sparked curiosity about Cruz’s whereabouts just before 9 pm ET on Wednesday when he posted a photo of a man who appeared to be Cruz waiting to board a plane at an airport above the caption, “Well Senator Cruz is flying to Cancun while millions of Texans do not have electricity.”

That unconfirmed tweet quickly went viral, and before too long, other unconfirmed photos taken by fellow travelers emerged.

Soon, internet sleuths figured out that the man who appeared to be Cruz seemed to be traveling with his wife, Heidi (circled in the picture below), and their children. Others noticed that the man was wearing the same mask and ring that Cruz has been photographed wearing at the Capitol.

Still, as people went to bed on Wednesday evening, the social media reports about Cruz remained unconfirmed. Many noted that Cruz, a prolific and combative Twitter user, had gone radio silent, and his office wasn’t responding to requests for comment — circumstantial evidence suggesting something was up, but still not enough to say for sure that the photos were legit.

A journalist named David Shuster posted a tweet claiming he had “confirmed” that Cruz and his family “flew to Cancun tonight for a few days at a resort they’ve visited before,” but when asked by other reporters to detail his source, Shuster just referred to “multiple eye witnesses.”

Nonetheless, people had jokes ...

... while others remarked on the awful optics of a US senator vacationing in Mexico while his constituents are struggling to survive.

Then on Thursday morning, Fox News’s Chad Pergram became the first reporter from a major outlet to confirm the story, citing his colleague Paul Steinhauser and a GOP source who said “the photos speak for themselves.” (Ironically, Fox News mostly ignored the story on TV, not mentioning it once Thursday morning.)

The Associated Press and ABC later confirmed the story as well, with Houston police telling ABC that Cruz’s staff requested police presence “upon the Senator’s arrival at the airport” on Wednesday.

Politico’s Jake Sherman tweeted that it appeared Cruz was on the upgrade list for a Thursday flight from Cancun to Houston, which suggested that amid the firestorm, Cruz decided to cut his trip short. (Before Fox News confirmed the story, sleuths figured out that Cruz was on the upgrade list for a Wednesday flight from Houston to Cancun.)

Skift’s Edward Russell, citing a United Airlines source, reported that Cruz was originally supposed to return to Houston from Mexico on Saturday but rebooked his flight on Thursday morning. (NBC later confirmed that reporting.) Cruz was photographed on Thursday checking in for his flight back to Texas.

Cruz’s office still hadn’t commented as Thursday morning drew to a close, though there were indications it would try to spin the scandal by claiming Cruz just flew to Mexico to accompany his family.

Indeed, early Thursday afternoon, CNN’s Betsy Klein published a statement from Cruz in which he explained he just flew to Mexico because he wanted “to be a good dad” for his daughters, who “asked to take a trip with friends” because school was “cancelled for the week” because of the natural disaster.

Just before his flight back to Texas, Cruz offered remarks to reporters from the airport in Mexico in which he reiterated the themes from his office’s statement.

But there was even more. On Thursday evening, text messages Heidi Cruz sent to a group of the Cruzes’ neighbors leaked to the liberal group American Bridge and a number of news outlets. In them, Heidi Cruz notes that her house is “FREEZING” and says, “Anyone can or want to leave for the week? We may go to Cancun there is a direct flight at 445pm and hotels w capacity. Seriously.”

The authenticity of the text messages was confirmed by the New York Times.

Upon his return to Texas, Cruz gave a press statement in which chants of “resign!” could be heard behind him ...

... and then did several TV interviews, including a softball one on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show in which Cruz continued to try to shift responsibility for his ill-conceived trip to his daughters and his desire to be a good dad.

It should be noted that while Cruz’s state is in crisis, the US Senate is in recess this week. One Dallas resident wrote to the Dallas Morning News and defended Cruz on that basis, noting that the “Senate is out, he can afford it. ... What exactly is the problem?” (Other right-wing pundits defended Cruz along similar lines.)

But there are still things Cruz could do to try to help even if the Senate isn’t in session. For instance, the Democrat he defeated to retain his Senate seat in 2018, Beto O’Rourke, said he made more than 151,000 calls to senior citizens in Texas on Wednesday alone, and solicited help to do more of the same on Thursday.

Cruz’s flight to Cancun came one day after he posted a tweet acknowledging criticism he was receiving for his tweets from 2019 mocking California when heat waves there caused power outages.

“Stay safe!” Cruz wrote.

And during a radio interview on Monday, Cruz urged constituents to do the exact opposite of what he did.

“We could see 100 people lose their lives this week in Texas,” Cruz said. “So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids.”

Meanwhile, Twitter users surfaced tweets Cruz posted less than three months ago attacking a Democratic politician for traveling to Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic while telling his constituents to stay home. Cruz is not only guilty of exactly that, but his trip to Mexico — coming as it does while millions of his constituents are desperately in need of help — is perhaps even worse.